Struggling in Czech: My Language Learning Journey

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When I decided to go to the Czech Republic to study, I was determined to challenge myself and learn Czech even though others told me it was a difficult language. Before I went abroad, I did some self-studying with Duolingo, a language learning app. I learned some basic phrases and a few words. I registered for an Intro to Czech course. I thought since I got a head start, the Czech course wouldn’t be so difficult; in fact, I may even be ahead. I was so wrong.

Today was my first day of Czech class. As soon as the class started the professor started to speak to us in Czech. I knew a few words and phrases but when she started asking questions, I was very confused. I tried to keep up and look at the sheet of phrases she gave us. Afterward, she called on every single person in the class to form a sentence. When it was my turn, I had no clue what to say. First, I had no idea what she was saying; hearing a native speaker is completely different than listening to the phrases on an app. And second, I had no idea which words to pronounce and I wasn’t sure how to arrange the sentences because I don’t know what the grammar rules are. Thankfully, she spoke a little slower and I was able to figure out some of the grammar by looking at the sheet she gave me. After that, we took a break.

I knew that I would be challenged but I didn’t think it would be this difficult. I never struggled in a language course before. When I took a French course it came to me easily. Mostly because most of the grammar rules and words were similar to Spanish, a language I was already fluent in. I have never been so lost in a class; I actually contemplated dropping the course. Instead, I decided to take a deep breath and try again, so I looked at the sheet and tried to read through it. The professor noticed and she came over and asked me if I had any questions. I nodded, and she helped clarify any doubts I had with pronunciation and grammar.

When the break was over, I was ready to give it a second try. We went over numbers and she wrote a simple arithmetic problem on the board and ask us individually to say it in Czech and give her the solution. We then worked on our listening skills by pairing up with someone and having them read the number while the other person tries to cross it off their list. We even took turns picking a number from 1 to 100 and had the whole class try to guess the number. Even though all of these exercises require a lot of mental gymnastics, I am thankful because it’s encouraging us to think in the language. And even though I struggled a bit, I had fun and I felt like I learned a lot.

Learning a new language is difficult and it can be tempting to call it quits. But I learned not to let that discourage me and to never stop trying.